The Youngstown State special-teams units will look much different in 2019 with new faces in some key roles
By Dan Hiner
Fresh faces are sprinkled throughout the Youngstown State football team’s special teams units. A few are battling for the most important positions.
The Penguins lost kicker Zak Kennedy, punter Mark Schuler and long snapper Steven Wethli. Kennedy and Wethli were four-year starters and Schuler started since his sophomore year.
Now, the Penguins are turning to local talent to replace their kicking positions.
Redshirt freshman Grant Gonya is returning for the Penguins at kicker. Gonya appeared in two games for YSU last season. He was 2 for 2 on field goals last season and went 4 for 6 on extra points.
“Last year I got my feet wet, I got a little game experience,” Gonya said. “Going into this year, I’m a lot more confident with things — I’m really comfortable. I got a lot of good work in during the offseason and I got really good competition around here.”
Poland graduate Colten McFadden is also in the kicking competition. He transferred from Kent State during the offseason.
The McFaddens are a kicking family. His father, Paul McFadden, kicked at YSU and played for the Philadelphia Eagles while his brother, Connor McFadden, was a kicker at YSU from 2013-16.
Unlike his father and brother, Colten McFadden wears two kicking shoes. His family had a history of playing without a shoe on their kicking foot.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me that over the years,” Colten McFadden said. “I think my shoe is going to stay on. I don’t see that in the future ever coming off.
“It’s just something that my dad preferred and my brother preferred. And from the start, it wasn’t something I had many problems with it.”
Colten McFadden was redshirted by the Golden Flashes in 2017 and handled kickoffs last season.
Colten McFadden and Gonya have a history. They’ve been kicking together for years.
“I went and watched him a few times in high school,” Colten said. “I mean before we even started playing high school ball we were kicking together.”
Austintown Fitch grad Nick DeSalvo and former South Range Raider Brandon Youngs are competing to be the YSU punter.
DeSalvo was redshirted last season, but punted for the Falcons for three seasons. He was a Division I All-Inland District honoree at Fitch and averaged 43.7 yards per punt as a senior.
Youngs was a kicker for South Range. He attended YSU last year, but was not a part of the football team.
The Penguins are still looking for a snapper. Senior Lukas Shellhammer has taken over the short and long snapping responsibilities in camp, but the position won’t be determined until the fall.
“We got another incoming freshman, Dean Palumbo, who is going to be competing for that spot in fall camp,” said Nic McKissic-Luke, the YSU running backs coach and special teams coordinator.
Warren JFK graduate Jake Coates will handle the kickoff and punt return duties for the Penguins. Running back Christian Turner also saw time as a returner, but the Penguins are looking at all their options.
YSU signee CJ Charleston, South Range graduate Joe Alessi, senior Samuel St. Surin and sophomore Natavious Payne will all get chances to return.
“Coaches always say special teams is a big part of the game and the outcome of the game,” Coates said. “I look to make that better every year.”
The Penguins didn’t implement any schemes into camp. They focused on getting the players comfortable with drills and technique.
“The guys came out every day. They competed when they needed to,” McKissic-Luke said. “They executed the fundamentals of the techniques and we feel good right now about the core group of guys we got going into the season with our special teams.”